Five years ago I was planning on going back to university to study for a Master's degree in Professional Writing at Falmouth. As part of the application process potential students were asked to write a profile of someone who was famous or that they admired, based on an interview. I ended up scoring an email interview with the hands behind a knitted hero of mine – Nigel Plaskitt aka Monkey of ITV Digital and PG Tips fame.
It turned out Falmouth University never asked to see the carefully crafted profile I created, and I never ended up doing the course. The profile and interview remained covered in digital dust until a recent conversation that involved Muppets and Master's degrees jogged my memory, leading to a surprisingly fruitful Outlook search which yielded the original emails and their attachments. I felt the interview was worth sharing so here it is five years later with Monkey still going strong:
When did you decide you wanted to be a puppeteer, what inspired you?
I started out as an actor. I had done some puppeteering at The Little Angel Theatre in Islington at weekends and school holidays and a contact made then approached me after I'd been working as an actor for about 18 months. She was making puppets for a new pre school programme - Pipkins - could I do character voices. No actor says 'no' so I said yes and then they asked me if I'd puppeteer as well. So I did. That show ran nine years. Voices then became my 'thing'.
What's your favourite puppet you've had to operate?
Monkey has got to be a favourite. Simple character. Like Kermit. In fact originally designed and built by The Jim Henson Co for ITV Digital. The current PG Tips version is made by ex-Henson builder Paul Jomain.
You worked for Jim Henson's workshop, do you have a favourite memory or favourite story from working with him?
Only worked twice with Jim - once on Labyrinth and second on Bunny Picnic though I had the chance to watch them often shoot The Muppet Show as they were working on the next stage to Pipkins at Elstree. Can't give you an anecdote. Suffice it to say that in the following years I worked closely with Jerry Nelson, Dave Goelz and Louise Gold. They all loved him.
Does Monkey's kind of uniqueness come by accident or by design?
I like to think by design. It takes many years to develop a character like him. Sue Beattie (the right hand and sometimes both) Ben Miller (the voice) and I have been together on it since the beginning. Nine years now I think.
Are you still in touch with your inner child, I'd imagine this must be an important part of working on children's television?
In touch with it? I'm still living it. Where else could I spend my life playing characters such as a crazy Hare, a Monkey and Bad Lil Bunny. Seem to be a lot of animals!!!
Is working for children's television a rewarding experience?
Greatly. Though I didn't really appreciate this until recently when I started getting emails from twenty/thirtysomethings who had been in my original audience back in the 1970's.
Has the puppeteering business changed much in recent years, is there more technology involved now?
Going back the other way - look at Monkey - couldn't be more simple.
Is there still as much of a demand for traditional puppets, or are computer generated alternatives more popular?
See above and look at Hitchhiker's Guide. Garth Jennings wanted it to look real. He directed the latest Monkey ad.
Monkey man and Muppeteer Nigel I thank you, I still get excited every time I see a new PG tips ad on the TV and am still disappointed that the Monkey chat show never got made. For more information about Nigel's work check out his website and his IMDb profile.
I recently finished reading Special Effects: The History and Technique (Richard Rickett, 2006) and in addition to illuminating me as to how a vast range of special effects are achieved it's introduced me to a couple of awesome coinages that never really seem to have taken off – depthies and flatties. In other words 3D and 2D movies.
The terms were apparently coined in the '50s 3D boom when there were probably still a few people calling movies that weren't silent talkies. As much as I like them, and despite the fact that with the recent boom in 3D it would be a good time to bring them back, flatties does sound a little derogatory towards 2D movies.
Suggesting 2D movies don't have depth is unfair especially as there's still a bit of gimmickiness surrounding 3D films, making most of them more shallow than a good flattie that doesn't need an extra dimension for people to enjoy them.
I was in a second-hand bookshop this week and couldn't resist picking up a collection of comic verse, enticed by the dust jacket which looks like Comic Sans is having a tussle with a telephone cable.
Printed in 1942 I was worried that the humour might be as dry as the yellowing pages but I found this gem, an epitaph for a dentist:
Stranger! Approach this spot with gravity!
John Brown is filling his last cavity.
And I also liked one about a man named John Bun:
Here lies John Bun,
He was killed by a gun,
His name was not Bun, but Wood,
But Wood would not rhyme with gun, but Bun would.
I like to imagine there's a graveyard somewhere filled with epitaphs such as these, much like the graveyard from a Simpsons Halloween episode, but for now I'll just have to be content with the ones I've exhumed from this book.
I'm not normally one to advertise the fact that it's my birthday but this year I'm proud to show off one of my gifts, even if I did have a hand in making it myself.
Freelancing for a chocolate printing company has its advantages, and as a treat for my b-day this year I was asked what I'd like printed. As I help out with the design work for Choc Edge it seemed appropriate that I design myself something.
I cycled through all my interests for which I could produce some fan art with a birthday twist and settled on The Beatles, turning my favourite one into a simple line drawing and adding lyrics from 'Birthday' in a Beatles font.
I was pretty pleased with the result that was presented to me though it posed a dilemma – whether to eat it or "hang it on me wall", as Ringo might say in an episode of The Simpsons. The strawberry flavoured pink chocolate got the better of me though and I decided it was time to say ob-la-di, ob-la-da (life goes on, no more chocolate bar bra).
Mark is a freelance writer specialising in technology, television and social media, but is adept at writing about a range of different subjects and in different styles.
As well as writing Mark has experience of creating other forms of content for the web and print including photographs, videos and illustrations.